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The best headphones for music you can buy: Expert tested

I've tested the best headphones from Audio-Technica, Shure, Sennheiser, and more to find which pair delivers the best clarity, detail, and sound.
Written by Jada Jones, Associate Editor
Reviewed by Nina Raemont
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 | Best headphones for music overall
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 headphones in black
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2
Best headphones for music overall
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Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 | Best headphones for music with noise cancellation
Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 headphones on a desk
Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2
Best headphones for music with noise cancellation
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Edifier Stax Spirit S3 | Best affordable planar magnetic headphones
The Edifier Stax Spirit S3 headphones lying on their side
Edifier Stax Spirit S3
Best affordable planar magnetic headphones
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Sennheiser Momentum 4 | Best headphones for wireless listening
Sennheiser Momentum 4 wireless headphones against red brick
Sennheiser Momentum 4
Best headphones for wireless listening
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Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 | Best earbuds for music
The ATH-TWX7 earbuds in someone's hand
Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7
Best earbuds for music
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Audio-Technica ATH-M20x | Best budget studio headphones
Audio-Technica ATH-M20x headphones in a woman's hand
Audio-Technica ATH-M20x
Best budget studio headphones
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All headphones, in theory, should deliver amazing sound for music listening. However, sound quality is a very subjective metric that varies from person to person. Still, every audio enthusiast can agree that headphones sound the best over a wired connection.

Most of the headphones on this list achieve the best sound quality when wired. Many of these options are not strong candidates for the best noise-canceling headphones, as the microphones that cancel the noises around you can distort what you hear in your ear cups. As a result, there are less noise-canceling options on this list compared to some of our other lists. 

Also: The best over-ear headphones: Expert tested and reviewed

These headphones aren't made from the most expensive materials and aren't the top audiophile-approved headphones out there, but they will serve anyone who wants to hear more of their music. I've done hands-on testing and research on plenty of headphones to build a curated list of the best headphones for listening to music that you'll also love wearing. 

What are the best headphones for music right now?

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 are the best headphones for music right now, and you will commonly see them on the ears of audio professionals. These headphones have a marathon battery and can perform over a wired connection even if the battery is dead. The ATH-M50xBT2 are not the most feature-packed headphones out there, but if music is your priority, they will not disappoint.

Best music headphones of 2024

Pros & Cons
  • Marathon battery
  • Simple software
  • Wired option
  • Tight fit
  • Does not fold all the way
More Details

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 headphones are the latest iteration of Audio-Technica's iconic professional studio headphones. They feature 45mm large-aperture drivers for exceptional and accurate sound reproduction.

These headphones are suitable for audio professionals, as they include an AK4331 digital-to-analog converter and an internal headphone amp. However, the ATH-M50xBT2 are not reserved for pros, as they are optimized for gaming and have Bluetooth connectivity for on-the-go listening.

Review: Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2

The ATH-M50xBT2 can support up to 24-bit/44.1kHz sampling rate, meaning you can access HD audio with the right equipment. For those who want to go wireless, you can access Sony's high-quality LDAC Bluetooth codec.

These headphones deliver a very neutral sound and lack a bass bump or overly bright treble. If you want an exciting, dynamic, bass-heavy sound, you may not enjoy these. These headphones lack noise-canceling, so you'll enjoy their sound best during listening sessions in a quiet room. 

I tested the ATH-M50xBT2 headphones and enjoy listening to my favorite songs on Apple Music's Hi-Res Lossless catalog. These headphones offer clear, balanced, and detailed audio and provide enough passive noise isolation to keep my music at center stage.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Weight: 10.8 oz (307 g) | Battery life: 60+ hours | Frequency response: 15Hz - 28kHz | Bluetooth: Yes (5.0) | Wired option(s): 3.5mm headphone jack | Noise cancellation: No | Driver type: 45mm dynamic

Pros & Cons
  • Comfortable
  • Highly customizable EQ
  • USB-C audio
  • Bulky
  • Does not fold
More Details

The Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 headphones are fabulous for on-the-go listening and reflective listening sessions at home. Compared to the first-generation Aonic 50, the second-generation headphones have a USB DAC mode, meaning you can access hi-res audio over a wired connection with a USB-C cable.

I tested the Aonic 50 Gen 2 headphones and found that these headphones deliver big, overemphasized, punchy bass, which adds an enjoyable boom to the music you listen to. Their default treble was too bright for me, but I could easily adjust this issue with Shure's comprehensive EQ settings. 

The Aonic 50 Gen 2 support a host of Snapdragon's AptX Bluetooth codecs for wireless high-quality listening. Additionally, you can listen in high resolution up to 32-bit/384 kHz, making wired listening enjoyable for audiophiles. 

These headphones are equipped with hybrid active noise canceling. The noise-canceling is weak, but stronger than the Sennheiser Momentum 4. The ANC slightly affects sound quality, mainly in the upper and lower frequencies. However, these are a great option if you want headphones that perform well in the sound category and offer decent noise-canceling.

Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Weight: 11.8 oz (334 g) | Battery life: 45 hours | Frequency response: 20Hz - 22kHz | Bluetooth: Yes (5.0) | Wired option(s): 3.5mm headphone jack; USB-C | Noise cancellation: Yes | Driver type: 50mm Dynamic

Pros & Cons
  • Professional-grade sound
  • Comfortable
  • Swappable ear cup pads
  • Heavy
  • Not ideal for commuting
More Details

The Edifier Stax Spirit S3 are the company's closed-back take on planar magnetic headphones. Planar magnetic headphones use different metals and methods of sound transmission than the dynamic drivers you commonly find in consumer headphones.

These headphones deliver a smooth, clear, and highly enjoyable listening experience, adding dimension and detail to any song you listen to, wired or wireless, thanks to the planar magnetic drivers. 

Review: Edifier Stax Spirit S3

The Stax Spirit S3 headphones support hi-res audio with a 24-bit/96 kHz sample rate and also support a host of high-quality AptX Bluetooth codecs. With both of these audio features, you can access high-quality audio at all times.

Compared to headphones with large dynamic drivers, the Stax Spirit S3 delivers a smoother sound that's accurate with very little harmonic distortion, even at louder volumes. Because these are closed-back planar magnetic headphones, the soundstage is not as open, airy, or spacious as open-back planar magnetic headphones.

If you're looking to get your feet wet in the hi-res audio pool, the Stax Spirit S3 are a great place to start.

Edifier Stax Spirit S3 tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Weight: 11.6 oz (329 g) | Battery life: 60+ hours | Frequency response: 20Hz - 40kHz | Bluetooth: Yes (5.2) | Wired option(s): 3.5mm headphone jack | Noise cancellation: No | Driver type: 70 x 89mm planar magnetic

Pros & Cons
  • Stylish
  • Impressive sound
  • Marathon battery
  • Weak ANC
  • Bulky
More Details

The Sennheiser Momentum 4 are the company's latest over-ear flagship headphones and they deliver super audio quality for those who prefer to go wireless. Sennheiser is known for its professional-grade audio equipment, and the company implemented much of its high-quality audio tech into the Momentum 4.

These headphones offer up to 60 hours of playtime, making them great for marathon listening sessions. The 42mm dynamic drivers deliver deep bass that's not overpowering, and these headphones can reproduce songs with immense clarity.

Review: Sennheiser Momentum 4

The Momentum 4 lack a virtual soundstage, such as spatial audio, so the Momentum 4's soundstage is natural, but still includes an enjoyable overemphasized bass. These headphones offer 60 hours of continuous playtime, making them an exceptional option for listening to music on long traveling stretches.

The Momentum 4 are equipped with a host of AptX Bluetooth codecs, which will come in handy as these headphones are not optimized for wired listening. Over a wired connection, I thought the Momentum 4 were too quiet and lacked the depth and clarity I heard over a Bluetooth connection.

Sennheiser Momentum 4 tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Weight: 10.3 oz (292 g) | Battery life: 60 hours | Frequency response: 6Hz - 22kHz | Bluetooth: Yes (5.2) | Wired option(s): 3.5mm headphone jack | Noise cancellation: Yes | Driver type: 42mm dynamic

Pros & Cons
  • Stylish
  • Customizable ear tips
  • Great sound
  • Touch controls are awkward
  • Bulky case
More Details

If you don't like over-ear or on-ear headphones but don't want to sacrifice audio quality, the Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 earbuds are for you. Audio-Technica released these earbuds during CES 2024, and the company's latest flagship earbuds deliver a list of impressive features.

The ATH-TWX7 sport 5.8mm hi-res drivers that articulate any song's subtle details with impressive clarity. These earbuds are also compatible with Sony's high-quality LDAC Bluetooth codec. 

Review: Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7

The ATH-TWX7 have a warm sound profile that doesn't fatigue your ears in the upper or lower frequencies. Audio-Technica's companion app offers comprehensive EQ settings, and there are plenty of audio modes to choose from.

Additionally, the ATH-TWX7 have strong noise-canceling properties, and the sound quality is only slightly affected by the noise-canceling tech. These earbuds are perfect for people who enjoy an in-ear listening experience at home and on the go.

Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 tech specs: Form factor: In-ear | Weight: 4.7 oz (.17 g) | Battery life: 24 hours | Frequency response: 10Hz - 40kHz | Bluetooth: Yes (5.1) | Wired option(s): N/A | Noise cancellation: Yes | Driver type: 5.8mm Dynamic

Pros & Cons
  • Comfortable
  • Long audio cable
  • Affordable option for studio headphones
  • No wireless option
  • Cheap build
More Details

If you're on a tight budget or want a pair of headphones for entry-level neutral listening, try the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x studio headphones. These are the most bare-bones, no-frills headphones Audio-Technica offers, and they lack fancy accessories and software features, including Bluetooth connectivity.

However, when I tested the ATH-M20x, the bass response in the upper frequencies was accurate but lacked depth and fullness. The overall sound is neutral but enjoyable and balanced. These headphones reproduce sounds with accuracy, and there's little distortion at higher volumes. 

The ATH-M20x are a great pair of beginner headphones for students studying music or for someone who's starting a podcast.

Audio-Technica ATH-M20x tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Weight: 10.8 oz (307 g) | Battery life: 60 hours | Frequency response: 15Hz - 20kHz | Bluetooth: No | Wired option(s): 6.3mm headphone jack | Noise cancellation: No | Driver type: 40mm dynamic

What are the best headphones for music?

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 are a great option for people who want to hear more out of their music. You can listen in high-resolution clarity for hours on end and use them for low-latency gaming, plus they double as headphones for professional use. To see how they stack up, here is a summary of the best headphones for music. 

Best headphones for musicCostTypeConnectivity
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2$199Over-earBluetooth 5.0
Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2$349Over-earBluetooth 5.0
Edifier Stax Spirit S3$399Over-earBluetooth 5.2
Sennheiser Momentum 4$380Over-earBluetooth 5.2
Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7$199In-earBluetooth 5.1
Audio-Technica ATH-M20x$69Over-earWired only

Which headphones for music are right for you?

Headphone experiences are personal and subjective. What works for you may not work for the next person, and vice versa. You should decide if you want headphones that are suitable for commuting or headphones that stay at home. Some options, like the Sennheiser Momentum 4, are commuter-friendly, while the Edifier Stax Spirit S3 aren't.

You should also consider if you want headphones that are optimized for wired listening or if you prefer wireless headphones. The Audio-Technica ATH-M20x don't have Bluetooth connectivity, so your only option is to listen wired. On the other hand, the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 can be wired or wireless, making them more versatile.

Choose these headphones for music...If you want...
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2Headphones that sound great wired and wireless, and can serve as mobile gaming headphones and professional studio headphones.
Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2Headphones that can achieve hi-res audio and offer noise-canceling tech, which makes them suitable for commuting.
Edifier Stax Spirit S3Headphones with more sophisticated internal audio hardware for higher-quality sound reproduction.
Sennheiser Momentum 4Headphones that deliver high-quality sound without wires. These headphones have weak noise-canceling tech, but the wireless component makes them attractive.
Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7High-quality sound without the constraints of over-ear or on-ear headphones.
Audio-Technica ATH-M20xStudio headphones for less than $100 that can get the job done. These headphones are a great option for music students.

Factors to consider when choosing a pair of music headphones

I've spent the last year testing many headphones, 25, to be exact. Through my testing, I've tried decent headphones, while others have given me a listening experience that keeps me up at night. Although sound quality is highly subjective, there are some objective measures I considered before curating this list.

  • Price: For some people, price is the first factor they consider when buying a pair of headphones. This is understandable, as spending hundreds of dollars on headphones isn't feasible for everyone. I included headphones that range from $70 to $400. 
  • Drivers: Simply put, headphone drivers are the speakers inside the ear cups that convert electrical signals into sound. Other components like magnets, coils, and diaphragms also contribute to sound creation and movement. Drivers range in size, but many dynamic drivers are between 30mm and 45mm in diameter. Bigger driver size doesn't always mean better sound, but it usually means deeper bass response and, sometimes, more distortion. 
  • Form factor: Headphones come in different form factors: Over-ear, on-ear, true wireless, and in-ear monitors. I included many over-ear options because these headphones create a seal around your ears to better immerse you in the music you listen to. Over-ear headphones offer a realistic soundstage, more comfort, and longer battery life. However, over-ear headphones can be bulky and cumbersome.
  • Use cases: Some headphones in this list are studio headphones, while others are traditional consumer headphones. The difference lies in their use cases and sound reproduction. Studio headphones are made for professional use, so they sound neutral and balanced. Consumer headphones are made for everyday use, so they tend to have an overemphasized bass response and noise-canceling technology.

How we test headphones

Although some people are concerned with objective sound measurements that can be quantified on a graph, I spend most of my time testing headphones in real-world situations. I wear them for hours while I work at my desk to test comfort, I wear them in quiet and loud environments to test noise-canceling, and I use them daily for weeks at a time to measure battery life.

Sound is incredibly subjective, and your ears may disagree with the concrete measurements on sound curves, charts, and graphs. The only way to know if a pair of headphones works for you is to test them out yourself. 

I suggest you buy a pair of headphones and wear them to work, on your daily commute, and at home. Make sure to keep your receipt, as you can always return them (within a retailer's return window) if you don't like them.

Should I buy wired or wireless headphones?

Wired and wireless headphones both have their pros and cons depending on where, how, and why you plan to use a pair of headphones. You should buy wired headphones if you have a discerning ear for music listening or if you frequently play video games. Gaming headphones are usually wired to achieve low latency.

The number one pro of wireless headphones is the lack of wires. You don't need to be tethered to a device, and wireless headphones offer features like noise-canceling, access to voice assistants, and auto play and pause. If you plan to take your headphones on your daily commute, to work, or to the gym, you should buy wireless headphones.

Should I buy open-back or closed-back headphones?

Open-back headphones allow for your music to leak out of the open ear cups, offering an airy, spacious, and multidimensional listening experience. Open-back headphones can be more expensive, but their sound reproduction is more natural than closed-back headphones. 

Open-back headphones offer little to no protection from ambient environmental noises, so they're best for critical listening sessions in private indoor environments. I do not recommend you buy open-back headphones if you like to wear headphones in public.

Closed-back headphones are closed at the back of the ear cups and make up all of the over-ear headphones options on this list. Closed-back headphones may sound less natural than open-back headphones, but they offer you protection from external noises and offer other people around you protection from your music.

In conclusion, most people can get more of their money's worth from closed-back headphones due to their versatility in various environments. However, music professionals and anyone who enjoys private listening at home should invest in a pair of open-back headphones.

Are wired or wireless headphones better for listening to music?

Listening to music over a wired connection allows you to listen to music losslessly or in hi-res. Lossless and hi-res audio files have not been compressed, and you can listen to the songs as closely as how they originally sounded when recorded in the studio. Uncompressed audio files are large and require lots of data, and Bluetooth connections cannot sustain this kind of data transmission.

However, many consumer headphones are compatible with upgraded Bluetooth codecs, like Qualcomm's AptX and Sony's LDAC. Still, your listening device must be compatible with these Bluetooth codecs for you to access them, and many popular smartphones in the US are not.

So, wired headphones are better at reproducing your favorite songs in their original form, but wireless headphones are better if portability and convenience are most important to you. Many headphones on this list can be wired or wireless so that you can get the best of both worlds.

Are there alternative headphones for music worth considering?

There are plenty of other headphones on the market that are great options to listen to music with. Through my testing, these headphones are worth considering.

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